US court says profs can sue academic body for Israel boycott
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US court says profs can sue academic body for Israel boycott

Federal judge rejects American Studies Association claim that lawsuit infringes on First Amendment rights

In December 2013, the American Studies Association approved a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (pictured). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
In December 2013, the American Studies Association approved a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (pictured). (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A US federal court has ruled that four college professors can sue the American Studies Association over its academic boycott of Israel.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday ruled that the professors’ lawsuit, a case called Bronner v. Duggan, can go forward after the American Studies Association, or ASA, asked the court to dismiss it.

The court rejected ASA’s argument that going forward with the lawsuit infringes on its First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit charges the ASA with violating the District of Columbia law governing tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. That rule limits a nonprofit from acting beyond its chartered purposes, which in the case of the ASA, according to the plaintiffs lawyers, includes promoting knowledge and the “strengthening of relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad.”

A session titled 'Scholars Under Attack' summed up the mood of the American Studies Association’s annual meeting, Nov. 7, 2014. (Anthony Weiss/JTA)
A session titled ‘Scholars Under Attack’ summed up the mood of the American Studies Association’s annual meeting, Nov. 7, 2014. (Anthony Weiss/JTA)

The four plaintiffs, who are longtime members of the association, also charge that the boycott violates the group’s internal rules. They are American studies professors Simon Bronner, Michael Rockland, Michael Barton and Charles Kupfer.

In December 2013, the ASA membership approved the boycott with two-thirds of the 1,252 members who voted in support. At the time of the vote, there were 3,853 eligible voters, meaning one third of the membership participated. The boycott is not binding on members and targets institutions, not individuals.

The judge dismissed the lawsuit’s claim that a boycott of another country is outside the scope of ASA’s charter.

At least four US universities withdrew their membership in the association following the vote — Brandeis University, Indiana University, Kenyon College and Penn State Harrisburg — and at least 55 American universities and colleges rejected the boycott resolution.

Since the ASA boycott vote, the American Anthropological Association and the Modern Language Association have both failed to pass boycott measures.

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